Diplomatic push sparks little hope for end to DR Congo conflict

Tuesday March 14 2023
Bushangara IDP camp in north Goma

Congolese soldiers deploy to secure members of the UN Security Council at the Bushangara IDP camp in north Goma on March 12, 2023. The UN ambassadors called for a political solution to end the conflict in eastern DRC. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP



Another failed ceasefire, a UN call for talks nobody seems to want, and a new influx of foreign soldiers: despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts, there appears little chance a fresh insurgency in eastern DR Congo will stop any time soon.

International envoys as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo government say they want to give a chance to peace efforts for ending the insurgency by M23 rebels in North Kivu province.

Kinshasa and several Western governments say the rebels are backed by a Rwanda that is eyeing the natural resources across the border, a claim angrily denied by Kigali.

Displaced people worship at the Bushangara IDP camp

Displaced people worship at the Bushangara IDP camp on March 12, 2023 before the visit by the UN Security Council in Goma. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP

Tense relations


Relations between the two neighbours have long been tense. The M23, associated with the Tutsi ethnic group, says it is fighting in part to protect Tutsis from rival Hutu extremist groups.

M23 also claims the DR Congo government has reneged on a pledge to incorporate the fighters into the national army.

Read: Fighting erupts close to DRC's Goma

UN ambassadors for France and Gabon, ending a three-day visit to the area, on Sunday stressed a political solution to end the fighting, which according to UN figures has displaced over 800,000 people.

But the DR Congo government wants the international community to impose sanctions against Rwanda and rules out negotiations with the M23.

"Let's be serious. The M23 is a terrorist movement," Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula said on Monday.

Displaced people Bushangara IDP camp

Displaced people watch the UN Security Council team arrive for a visit of the Bushangara IDP camp north of Goma on March 12, 2023. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP

Talking not solution

Mamy Asumini Kayumba, a resident of Goma, a city of more than one million people increasingly threatened by the advance of M23 fighters, said talking was no solution.

The M23 had previously captured Goma in 2012 before being driven out by a joint Congolese-UN offensive. 

"For 30 years we've been living with these atrocities, it's time for it to end," Kayumba said.

For Placide Nzilamba, a civil society activist in Goma, the UN Security Council "should instead go tell the Rwandan government to withdraw its soldiers, who are killing Congolese and shelling cities."

Read: DRC army: M23 attacked Burundi troops

'Difficult position'

But facing insurgents who are gaining ground and see no advantage in accepting a truce, "DR Congo is in a difficult military position", said Reagan Miviri, a researcher at the Ebuteli think tank in Kinshasa.

And as for negotiations, "it's very hard to offer anything at all to M23 in an election year", given that President Felix Tshisekedi is expected to stand for re-election in December, Miviri said.

Officials appear to have ruled out accepting M23 fighters into the army, and giving them government jobs "would be unpopular", he added.

Adding to tensions was the decision over the weekend by Angola, which helped broker the latest ceasefire that collapsed last week, to send a military unit to North Kivu.

The announcement revived memories of the Second Congo War of 1998-2002 that involved nine African countries and nearly tore sub-Saharan Africa's biggest nation apart. 

the Bushangara IDP camp, north of Goma

Monusco head Bintou Keita (left) and Mozambique’s Permanent Representative to the UN Pedro Comisario Afonso during a visit to the Bushangara IDP camp, north of Goma by the UN Security Council on March 12, 2023. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP

Regional force

The East African Community has already deployed a regional force consisting of Kenyan and Burundi troops to supervise a theoretical retreat of M23 fighters.

Kinshasa wants the force to have an "offensive" mandate to push back M23 fighters.

Read: Is Tshisekedi really keen on holding polls?

But already, local resentment against the force is growing, similar to the frustration seen against a UN force that has been unable to stop the fighting despite being in the country for the past 23 years.

Lutundula, the DRC foreign minister, said the Angolan soldiers were not there "to carry out attacks but to see how things are on the ground".

"There is no ambiguity, Angola is within its terms of reference," he said.